While I was looking up some origins regarding the character 失, I happen to come across three theories for the character.

The most common one a lot of sources say about this character is that it was composed of 手 and 乙 (which from what I've heard is also sound component) and it depicted a hand loosing an object.

However though when I looked up the ancient forms for this character, it looks nothing like a hand loosing an object and shows a person with their hair emphasized/stylized in a way as seen below: (ancient characters are from ccamc.org) enter image description here

To which the other source (Dong Chinese) says that this character depicted a person falling down and apparently originally meant, "to stumble". In my opinion, I don't understand how this is supposed to look like a person that just fell over. If anything this more looks like a person with emphasized hair or something.

However in yet another source, Outlier Linguistics of Chinese Characters says this depicted a footprint with drops of blood surrounding it: enter image description here Here in this theory though, I noticed that the oracle bone inscription of 市 is used here which confuses me a lot more since I couldn't find any ancient forms that looked like a bloody footprint. I'm not sure if this is an ancient form of 失 or 市 judging from looking at the form.

If anyone can, it would be much appreciated helping me out with this glyph origin since I'm kind of confused about the explanations a little. Thanks!

1 Answer 1


The reference from the Outlier source links to:

p. 846



Where you can see where they got their information from:

enter image description here

Ji Xusheng quotes oraculologist Ding Shan on the origin of the meaning of the oracle bone script character. He also does acknowledge the similarities between「失」&「市」. He believes that「市」branched off from「失」and further diverged after the Zhou dynasty. Further information is contained in his entry for 「市」:

enter image description here
enter image description here

  • So if I had to guess from the explaintions, 市 and 失 were once the same characters in the oracle bone inscriptions but later the two characters were interpreted differently and/or 市 was probably derived from 失 from corruption/phoneticization of the bottom component of 市 in which in my theory probably is supposed to originally depicted the bloody footprint's ankle.
    – prismcool
    Jul 16, 2023 at 15:31
  • @prismcool Looks like「市」was originally a phonetic loan of「失」but then later branched off into its own separate character, probably because of the confusion caused from these rubus borrowings.
    – Mou某
    Jul 16, 2023 at 18:06

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